Fortunately for the students in our after school care program, I remember what it was like to be a kid right before Christmas. Otherwise there would be a lot more time outs. As you might expect this time of year, they are wound up and bouncing off the walls. When we were little, my grandfather had a toy monkey that would bounce up and down, bang cymbals and make high pitched monkey sounds with a crazed look on its face. Multiply that by 60 and you have my workplace right now.
We love asking the kids what they asked for from Santa for Christmas. Their eyes light up as they repeat the list, memorized for that moment when they got to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him their hearts’ desire. While our older kids aren’t so much into Santa, they are just as excited about what they want for Christmas. You can almost see those “visions of sugarplums” dancing in their heads. Except that their sugarplums are things like iPods, handheld game systems, and laptops.
I remember those Christmas mornings, when we would wake up about 4 a.m. and sneak down to look at all the presents that had magically appeared under the tree. We would try to wake up our parents, not knowing that they probably had been in bed only a couple of hours. They would put us off until at least 7 a.m., making us go back to bed in the meantime. Those were the longest hours, waiting until we could get up and open gifts. My sister and I could never get back to sleep and we constantly watched the clock. To kill time, we would go aggravate my brother. Even after we were allowed to get up, we had to wait for mom and dad to get their coffee and cameras. When they finally finished torturing us and gave us the go ahead, we tore into the pile like starved hyenas. Within minutes, it was over and all was revealed. “Santa” rarely disappointed, and the few things we didn’t get were forgotten after opening other great things we had never asked for. Then mom would make a big breakfast, complete with biscuits and gravy and we would eat with the same gusto we had given the present opening. All that anticipation and work makes a kid hungry.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
Of course, God gave mankind the ultimate Christmas gift when He sent Jesus Christ into the world to be our Savior. That gift is, after all, the reason for the season. We remember the story of Jesus’ birth, reflect on His ministry and are awed by the sacrifice that He made for us.
2 Timothy 1:6
Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you . . . .
God has also given each of us special gifts and callings that we are to use for the glory of God. When we use those gifts and walk in those callings, then we are building the kingdom of God . . . we are about our Father’s business. However, all too often those gifts go unused or underused. In 1 Timothy 4, Paul warns Timothy (and us) not to neglect the gift that is in us. A few months ago, our pastor spoke about stirring up the gift inside. He gave us plastic spoons that had been anointed with oil to remind us of the gifts God had given us. A few weeks later when we visited another church during their revival, the visiting speaker preached on stirring up the gift. All the ladies from our congregation pulled out their spoons from their purses and began “stirring” in the air. It was a priceless moment . . . God confirming His word to us.
For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.
How many of us can remember all the gifts we ever received for Christmas? I can remember a handful of really special ones. Very few of those gifts are still around. After a while, we got tired of them and they lay in the bottom of the closet or a toy chest. Eventually they were put in a box marked either trash or Goodwill, while we started making a list of all the new things we wanted. Sometimes we treat God’s gifts that way. We put them on a shelf and forget about them. Or, for whatever reason, we want to have gifts other than the ones we were given. But God knows what He is doing and has given us the right gifts for us. We just have to use them. If we do neglect them, they aren’t taken away, because the Word says that the gifts and calling of God are without repentance, which means they are irrevocable. In other words, they are ours to keep, whether we choose to use them or not. There are no “take-backs”, as the kids say.
1 Peter 4:10
As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
God’s gifts won’t be taken back. You also can’t give them to someone else. The only way to give away your gift is to use it. These gifts will bless us when we use them, but more importantly, they are intended to bless others. Not everyone in the church can preach. Not everyone in the church can sing. Not everyone in the church is good at helps and hospitality. Not everyone can work the sound system. Not everyone is good at praying with people and bringing them comforting words. Not everyone is good at going out on the streets to witness to people. The list is endless. When each of us exercises our gifts we bless each other and as a body we demonstrate to the unsaved world what it means to be a Christian.
A man’s gift makes room for him, And brings him before great men.
Sometimes we struggle, trying to figure out what are our gifts and callings from God. Think about the things that you are naturally good at, that come effortlessly for you. Consider the talents that others recognize in you. These are from God to be used for His glory, but they also benefit you in your workplace or in raising your family or in relationships with others. I have mentioned in other articles that in my former job I had to go speak to groups. Now I speak to a Sunday school class weekly. I don’t get nervous being in front of them. God has given me that gift of public speaking. I sometimes forget what a special gift it is until I encounter a person who is deathly afraid of speaking in front of others. God will make the way for you to use your gift. When I read Proverbs 18:16, I thought of Joseph and Daniel being brought before the pharaoh and the king to interpret their dreams. When they used their gift of interpretation, they were elevated in their positions and were able to do more for God and His people.
This Christmas as you are wrapping and unwrapping gifts, I hope that you will consider the gifts that God has given you and how you are using them. Perhaps it is time to stir up the gift that is in you. Don’t leave it in the box or put it on a shelf. Be sure to give God the glory and the praise and thanksgiving when you use it.
The blog will resume on January 7, 2011. I wish a Merry Christmas and a happy, blessed New Year for you and your family!
Are you a "Merry Christmas" or a "Bah Humbug" this year?
One of my Facebook friends recently posted on his wall that it didn't feel like Christmas this year. He wanted to know if anyone had any ideas on how to get that feeling back. A lot of suggestions were offered, including listening to Christmas music and decorating the house. I was pleased to see one person tell him that remembering the "reason for the season" was where to find the real joy of Christmas.
Another one of my friends is having a different experience this year. She is usually the one who isn't so excited about the holiday. She's definitely not a Scrooge . . . she is a very generous and loving person. But I understand her dread. Christmas is a lot of work. She is a mother of three, so she has a lot of shopping and wrapping; baking and decorating; school and church plays; school, church, scouts, dance, and family parties. The list goes on and on. I don't know what's going on, but this year she is talking about how she can't wait to decorate and she is singing along with Christmas carols. She is really feeling the joy of Christmas and I'm really happy for her.
There is something about Christmas that intensifies whatever emotions or feelings we have.
It's a time of great anticipation, whether it be spending time with family or hoping for a special gift. Nothing winds up a kid more than waiting to see if "Santa" is going to bring everything on his wish list.
It is a time of reflection, when we look back over the last 12 months and wonder where the time has gone. We examine our lives to see where we are compared to where we hoped to be.
It is also a time to reminisce. We remember Christmases past and family traditions. We think about family members or friends who are no longer with us to share in those traditions. Those first few Christmases without a loved one can be especially difficult.
Christmas is also a time to count our blessings and to remember the greatest gift that was ever given mankind . . . the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Feelings, of course, are something that can't be forced or faked. You either feel it or you don't. You can let the lack of feeling hold you back or you can keep pushing forward. There are a lot of days that I don't feel like going to work, but I get up and go anyway. And most of the time after I get there, I have a pretty good day. One of the kids will either say something sweet or funny, or they will give me a picture they've drawn, and it will brighten my day. That's a lot better than staying home and feeling sorry for myself. I think that if you keep moving and doing what you're supposed to, the feeling will follow. And even if it doesn't, at least you've done the right thing.
2 Corinthians 5:7
For we walk by faith, not by sight.
Our Christian walk is sometimes like this. We love to feel the fellowship of God. We love that feeling we have when we are in His presence. But sometimes we go through a dry spell. It seems like God has abandoned us. We wonder what we have done and what we can do to get that feeling back. Is God testing us? Is God trying to teach us something? Or have we crowded our spirits with so much other "stuff" that we've left little room for God? All of the above?
I do believe that God wants us to learn that following Him is more than a feeling. If we let our feelings rule our faith, we will never make it. We have to know what God's word says and what His will is and follow that, not our feelings. The Bible says that we should pray for our enemies, but aren't there some days when you feel like you would rather go punch them in the mouth? (Surely I'm not the only one!)God gave us feelings and He wants us to experience them. He has a great love to share with us, and He wants us to feel that love. What's important is that we put obedience to His word ahead of any feelings we may have.
You want to feel the Christmas spirit? Then do something, whether it's buying a special gift for someone, participating in a Secret Santa program or buying groceries for a family in need. In Matthew 10:8 it says "Freely you have received, freely give." Christmas is about giving and sharing, not getting and taking. My husband has given me a lot of gifts over the years, but my favorite was last year's. Money was tight, so we agreed not to buy each other anything. He gave me a beautiful card in which he had written about how much he appreciated and loved me. Just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes again.
You want to feel the Holy Spirit? Then do something, whether it is reading your Bible and praying, visiting the sick or shut it or helping out with a church project. 2 Timothy 4:7 says "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." Staying in your Christian walk isn't an easy thing. Paul called it the good fight. It is going to be difficult along the way. There are going to be the dry spells in the valley, and there are going to be the mountaintop moments, as well. The important thing is to stay in the game . . . finish the race. Persevere. You have to put faith above feeling. Matthew says "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you."When we have our priorities in order and we put God first, everything else will fall into its proper place, including your feelings.
"I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint." At this I awoke and looked around. My sleep had been pleasant to me.
The last day of Thanksgiving break, I woke up and felt something I hadn't felt in a long time . . .rested. You know that Taco Bell commercial where the person sings, "I'm full!"? It was that same kind of feeling. I was rested!
One of the perks of working for the school system, at least in my job, is that you are off work when the kids are out of school. This year, they had a week off for Thanksgiving. There were a lot of things that I could have done with that week. I could have traveled to Maryland to see my family and was seriously considering it until I had to have some work done on the car. I kept coming up with other reasons not to go, but I realized that the bottom line was that I was just too tired to drive a long trip without help.
When I decided to stay home, I thought about the various projects around the house that I could tackle. I had the time and my husband was away at hunting camp. Closets, cabinets and drawers needed cleaned out. Furniture needed to be moved and swept under. Papers needed to be filed. Just thinking about putting up the Christmas tree and decorations made me tired. It usually takes two or three days because it is such a tiring job. Of course, there was also Thanksgiving dinner to think about. It was all starting to sound a little overwhelming. Then I began to hear that small, still voice and it was saying "rest".
Rest? You mean, as in do nothing? Yep. Rest. Nap. Relax. Sleep in. Stretch out on the couch. Read a book. Read the paper. Watch an old movie on TV. Take another nap. I wasn't sure I remembered how to do that. Fortunately it's like riding a bike - you take right back to it. I didn't totally let things go. I still straightened up the house and kept the dishes washed and the beds made. Laundry got done. Supper was cooked. But in between those chores, I rested. Now that my daughter is a teen, she is sleeping in late. That made it easy for me to sleep in late, too. (When she was little, she was always up early so I rarely got to sleep in.)
Within a few days, I began to feel the results. Our neighbors invited us to have Thanksgiving dinner with them and it was wonderful. I fixed a few side dishes to go with the meal and we really enjoyed ourselves. After I helped with the clean up, I came home and took a two-hour nap! I was so rested up by Friday that I actually agreed to take my daughter to the mall. (We didn't do the early morning, crazy shopping thing - we went later in the afternoon.) My husband got down all the boxes, and on Saturday, we put up the Christmas tree and decorations in one day. I couldn't believe it. And I wasn't really tired when we finished.
I would say that I felt like a new person, but the truth is I felt like my old self. I felt like that person who used to get things done and enjoy doing them. I had been pushing myself and doing too much for so long. I think I reached a point where I was just existing and not living. I was getting up early each morning and trying to cram as much into a day as I possibly could. I see a lot of other people doing it, too. More is expected of us every day in our jobs. Every day we are trying to do more with less.
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
For the last few months, I have been hearing "rest."So I have started trying to rest on Sundays. It is the Sabbath, our day of rest, after all. After morning service I come home and eat, maybe take a nap, or read the paper. I try not to do any household chores or try to get caught up on paperwork for school. It doesn't always work out that way, but I am trying.
When God finished His creation over six days, He rested on the seventh day. In Exodus 34:21, He tells us to do the same. ("Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.") God didn't rest because He was tired. That seventh day, the day of rest, represents the rest we have in Jesus Christ. All our lives on this earth, we will labor. But a day will come when our labors will end, and we will have our rest in Him. In heaven, we'll never be tired or weak or faint. We will be rested!
But while we are on earth, we have to remember that we are human and quit trying to work like we are superhuman. If you are over 40, you know firsthand that the body begins to slow and break down. The mind and spirit are willing, but the flesh is just plain worn out. Jesus was fully man and fully God. Because He was man, He understood all that we feel. He knew that rest was important to our physical well-being.
The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest." So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.
Were you ever so busy that you missed a meal or two? Sure. I know that I have. The same thing happened to His apostles. But He told them to take a break and get away from all the hubbub and action. Rest and get something to eat. If you were to drive your car and not stop for gas, eventually you would run out of gas and be stranded on the side of the road. We have work to do. We need to be about our Father's business. But we can't do it if we are out of gas.
Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about .
I underlined the word "tired" because I wanted to make sure it was seen. When I read the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman again a few weeks ago, that word jumped out at me. As many times as I had read it, I had never noticed that word. Jesus was tired! I think that we forget sometimes that Jesus was also a man. He experienced what it meant to be human and to be made of flesh and bone. He got tired. He got hungry. He had to sleep. That's why He is able to comfort us the way that He does - He's been there.
It seems pretty simple. If you are hungry, eat. If you are cold, put on something warm. If you are tired, rest. When we truly rest, God will refresh us and strengthen us. But we have to stop and be still first. If you keep running on empty, then that's how your life is going to feel. You might get a lot done, but at what cost? And I think we also need to ask ourselves what is keeping us so busy that we can't get the rest we need. What good or purpose is it serving? How much of what we accomplish will be burned up like wood, hay and stubble? (1 Corinthains 3:12-13) Are you busy in the right things? Or have you allowed yourself to be enslaved to the busyness and demands of the world?
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
When a friend asked how my Thanksgiving week had been, I jokingly said that it was great because I had given myself the gift of rest. I realize now that the gift was really from the Lord. But I did have to make the first step. Come, He said. Lay it down. Give it over to Him. Rest.